Library of Universal Knowledge

What if you could hold in your hand and have at your fingertips more information than you ever thought possible? Oh wait, that sounds a lot like the internet, doesn’t it? Okay, how about accurate information on more subjects than you could name? Did your family have a set of encyclopedias? Mine, didn’t, but thankfully the school libraries had plenty. Most of us probably learned our early research and citations skills by using the World Book encyclopedias, right?

What I have found among family heirlooms is The Library of Universal Knowledge. It belonged to my grandparents, though in my memory it just sat with a bunch of books on Grandma’s shelf beside the fireplace.


This is a book that contains information about everything; dictionaries of all kinds, illustrations, color maps, all sorted by subject and index tabs. As the title page says: it is a practical self educator. (And it is endlessly entertaining.) Take a look.








The index tabs include: Webster’s Dictionary, Student & Writer’s Guide, Business Law Dictionary, Synonyms & Antonyms, Pictorial Self Educator, Cyclopedia of Nature, Manual of Photography, Atlas & Gazetteer, Dictionary of Biography, General Information, Medical Dictionary, Encyclopedia of Gardening, and Business & Finance.

Wow, that would be a lot to learn and absorb. Good luck readers!

Have you ever seen such a thing? Does your family have a literary treasure just sitting around your house? And do you remember the days of encyclopedias as the first phase of your research? It wasn’t all that long ago


Kathleen Harriman Mortimer

Today the New York Times ran the obituary of a woman named Kathleen Harriman Mortimer, the daughter of W. Averell Harriman.

Kathleen Harriman Mortimer, 1946. Source: NY Times February 21, 2011. Click for original source.

Kathleen Mortimer died at age 93 at her home in Arden, NY.  Throughout the course of her life she was journalist, a United States ambassador to Moscow, traveled with her father abroad to important political events such as the Yalta conference, among many other accomplishments.

The obituary caught my attention because of my association with Mrs. Mortimer from my days of Overhills Oral History research. The Harriman family had a cottage on Overhills property; Averell Harriman, along with Percy Rockefeller, were important figures in the 1910s and 1920s of Overhills history.  Kathleen and her sister visited Overhills when they were babies and toddlers. You can see a picture of Averell Harriman and his daughters on the Harriman Cottage porch on page 109 of the Overhills book (Arcadia Publishing, 2008).

I spoke with Kathleen Mortimer on the phone a few times throughout 2006-2009 about her brief time at Overhills. She sounded like a classy, interesting woman. At the time, I had no idea of her impressive life adventures. It was honor to speak with her. I extend my sympathies to the Harriman and Mortimer families on their loss of Kathleen.

Book: Outside Lies Magic

Ever wonder about your surroundings? Just how much of a story do everyday aspects of the built environment tell? What do they layers of our cultural landscape reveal about the past? These layers and clues are in plain sight, not even hidden. You just have to look a bit. Take a walk. Go for a run. Or as recommended by John R. Stilgoe, go for a bike ride. Just get outside; “get out now.”

John R. Stilgoe’s book, Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places, teaches readers how to be explorers and how to read the land via telephone poles, railroad corridors, interstates, fences, parking spaces, and more. Stilgoe weaves an interesting, captivating text that gives seemingly mundane surroundings context, character, and meaning. The best part about this book is that you do not have to be a preservationist, geographer, planner, architect, or historian to appreciate and understand the content. If you like to gaze at your surroundings and occasionally wonder about streets, rails, land, boundaries, mail routes, etc. then it is the perfect book. An easy, enjoyable read, this is something everyone should add to their library.

Read the book, take a bike ride — you’ll never be the same.

Dreaming of Architecture

A grad school side note: last night I was definitely dreaming of American architecture.  Actually, I’m pretty sure that I was dreaming of studying American architecture. Not exactly a dream, not exactly a nightmare, but I did want some peace from studying! It’s midterm season!

Has anyone read Architecture and the Dream by Craig Whitaker (Three Rivers Press, 1998)?


It looks like a good read, and received favorable reviews. This New York University professor is also a planner and a landscape architect. The book analyzes American ideals and the built environment. It seems like it’d be right up the alley of Diners, Bowling Alleys, and Trailers Park: Chasing the American Dream in Postwar Consumer Culture by Andrew Hurley, which happens to be one of my all-time favorites.  (And it seems way less frightening than dreaming about architecture.)

Book: Recording Historic Structures

If you are involved in researching and documenting historic structures (buildings, structures) one of the best books you can invest in is Recording Historic Structures, edited by John A. Burns (see here).  The book covers documentation standards for HABS and HAER, discussing how to properly photograph buildings, teaching readers how to do conduct thorough historical research, and how to do measurements and drawings. Basically, this is everything you need to know for being up to par with the standards of the National Park Service. The lessons in the book are understandable and supplemented with case studies, photographs, and documents.

Aside from the technical side, the book often gives the readers thought provoking statements. One of my favorites so far is, “The effectiveness of the primary sources will depend on the questions being asked” (p. 28). It may sound obvious, but it’s a statement to remind me to stay on my toes. Even if you have all of the information in front of you, it’s only useful if you know how to use it and how something is significant to research.

I read this book for my documentation at the University of Mary Washington and I’m reading it again at UVM. While some may not want to read a textbook more than once, I’m finding that I am learning more the second time around. The beautiful hardcover book is worth the $75 investment, because it you gain more in knowledge and the book serves as a good reference manual.

Book Club Update

Books are on my mind today.

So far, I have heard from Andrew D, Elyse G, Amy M, and Missy C regarding interest in the book club. We’ll give it a little while longer before “starting” so keep thinking!

Details still to follow.

Overhills Book Release

Today, Monday October 6, 2008 is the official release date of Overhills by Jeffrey D. Irwin & Kaitlin O’Shea.

Please read about the book on the Overhills website. On the website you can find FAQs about Overhills, contact information for Irwin & O’Shea, author biographies, and up-to-date posts about sale locations, book signings, interviews, etc.  If you would like to contact Kaitlin or Jeff about the Arcadia Publishing experience in general, they are more than glad to answer your questions.

Of course, you can easily reach Kaitlin by leaving comments below or emailing  Enjoy! It’s a great story about the old Rockefeller estate.

Overhills by Jeffrey D. Irwin and Kaitlin O’Shea

Aside from our responsibilities at Fort Bragg, Jeff and I thought that an Images of America book with Arcadia Publishing would be a great way to tell the story of Overhills because we have hundreds of images available.  The process involved a proposal, sample text and images, and upon earning a contract, months of hard work and Overhills thoughts for about ¾ of our days.


The book will not be on sale until October 6, 2008, but now that is finished, edited, and officially on Arcadia’s website, I am ready to tell the world.  Click below for the link to Arcadia Publishing.  (You can also google our names and Overhills.)


Overhills on Arcadia Publishing



Here is the back cover text:


Book Description: In the early 1900s, Overhills emerged as an exclusive hunt club hidden among the longleaf pine and wiregrass forest, sandy roads, and rural solitude of the North Carolina Sandhills. Soon becoming the Overhills Country Club, this rustic retreat featured a clubhouse, horse stables, dog kennels, train station, post office, and a golf course designed by the legendary Donald Ross. At its height, Overhills boasted fox hunting, bird hunting, polo, and golf with personal cottages on the property commissioned by William Averell Harriman and Percy Avery Rockefeller. By the era of the Great Depression, Overhills evolved from a country club to a country estate for the family of Percy and Isabel Rockefeller, lasting well into the latter decades of the 20th century. Throughout its history, the resident employees and tenant farmers of Overhills contributed to a unique community in this private southern arcadia.

Author Bio: Archaeologist Jeffrey D. Irwin and historic preservationist Kaitlin O’Shea have studied Overhills through the Overhills Oral History Project, conducted on behalf of the U.S. Army at Fort Bragg. The photographs featured in this collection date primarily to the 1920s and 1930s; many of these rare images have been provided by former residents and employees of Overhills.


Email me with any questions about the book and if you live near us, stay tuned for book signings once it is released!


If you would like to see a larger version of the cover, click here for pdf version: Overhills by Jeffrey D. Irwin and Kaitlin O’Shea